With the revival of the Lucasfilm Games banner earlier this week and multiple game announcements, including a Ubisoft-developed Star Wars one, the galaxy far, far away is broadening outside the walls of EA Studios. And while the announcement may not be surprising given the turbulent stewardship of Star Wars at EA, it’s still an exciting prospect – one filled with hope for the future of Star Wars games and the potential freedom Lucasfilm Games may now have.In fact, Lucasfilm’s moves in the gaming space this week appear to be following in the footsteps of another Disney-owned entertainment – Marvel.
There’s Been an Awakening
Lucasfilm Games revives the pre-LucasArts branding from the ‘80s, and evokes classic adventure games like Indiana Jones, Monkey Island, and Sam and Max. However, its name appears to be a nod to the past, not a return to it – Lucasfilm promises to be “the official identity for all gaming titles from Lucasfilm, a name that encompasses the company’s rich catalog of video games and its eye toward the future.”
The rebranding announcement preceded the, erm, massive news that Division 2 developer Massive is working on an open-world Star Wars game to be published by Ubisoft, billed as “the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Disney and Lucasfilm Games,” as well as a new Indiana Jones adventure from Wolfenstein studio MachineGames and publisher Bethesda.
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Lucasfilm Games’ mission statement and announcements, at least for now, indicate that the company isn’t opening its own internal game development studio. Gaming has long been something Disney has endeavored to have more of an impact on, even if just a couple years ago then-CEO Bob Iger admitted Disney “just never managed to demonstrate much skill on the publishing side of games.” Despite holding the keys to an increasing number of the biggest properties in entertainment. This was perhaps most obvious when Disney Interactive Studios shuttered in 2016 alongside the end of support for Disney Infinity, which threw Star Wars, Marvel, and all things Disney into one toys-to-life toybox that never quite took off.
But while Disney’s gaming brand nursed its wounds, and Star Wars remained locked (outside of VR, mobile, and LEGO games) in the hands of EA, Marvel quietly rebuilt itself into a formidable force in gaming.
A Disney (Business) Crossover
So far, this roadmap has worked for fellow-Disney owned Marvel Games. In 2016, Marvel Games publicly became the stewards of the brand, having previously been hamstrung by an exclusive deal similar to EA and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars arrangement. Marvel and Activision had an agreement stemming back into the early 2000’s for exclusive rights to X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man games. The partnership appeared to do so well in its earliest days, with hits like the Spider-Man 2 movie adaptation and the X-Men Legends line, that the two companies renewed the deal for Spidey and the mutants through 2017. But that partnership, as it continued on, resulted in underwhelming returns as the Spider-Man franchise lost its acclaim, and Marvel felt the pull of movie licensing for the MCU elsewhere. The relationship was eventually seemingly dissolved in 2014, but through the early 2010’s Marvel’s movie tie-ins led to a string of disappointing Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America games based on market needs rather than game ideas.
With its rebranding, Marvel Games made partnerships with different developers and publishers to produce a range of different games, unbeholden to any one exclusivity contract with a certain company or to satisfy tie-in needs for movies or TV. It’s partially why we can see an Insomniac-developed, PlayStation-exclusive Spider-Man series alongside a multi-platform Avengers series (that will also see Spider-Man… be PlayStation exclusive, but that’s another story entirely) released near to a Nintendo-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance sequel.
Sure, each one of them hasn’t been the runaway success that Marvel’s Spider-Man has been, but it’s clear that Marvel isn’t precluding developers from getting to play around with the heroes they want to develop games for, or the types of games those heroes can play around in. Camouflaj can develop an Iron Man VR game and Crystal Dynamics can still use Tony Stark as a playable character in Marvel’s Avengers. Entirely different games with entirely different visions can be produced under the Marvel Games name, without console or publisher agreements prohibiting a specific company from working with Marvel. Marvel has already worked with Telltale Games, Capcom, Crystal Dynamics, Insomniac, Camouflaj, and more.
Keeping things centrally tied to a Marvel company has allowed for more experimentation and general variety than we might have seen had Marvel agreed to only let a single publisher or developer tackle certain Marvel characters. And that’s led to a dual benefit – when a partnership works, Marvel can continue working alongside a developer, and when a project doesn’t quite work out, Marvel isn’t locked in to only one deal with its vast wealth of memorable and beloved characters.
That’s of course the most exciting part about Lucasfilm Games being able to stretch beyond the EA-Disney deal. EA’s time with the Star Wars license has been, to put it politely, turbulent, remembered for publicly canceled, high-profile games like Amy Henig and Visceral’s Ragtag; years entirely absent of Star Wars games, and microtransaction debacles around the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II. Of course, not everything has been bad news, and EA turned the ship around in recent years – Battlefront II’s team continually added DLC, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order delivered the Jedi action-adventure game fans have wanted since, well, the partnership began, and Star Wars Squadrons proved smaller-scale projects could fit into the EA pipeline and offer entirely different wish-fulfillment out of the galaxy.
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